This week Dr Zac Turner delves into the world of skin cancer and whether having darker skin makes you immune.
Hi Zac, I’ve been working as a tradie for eight years now. My worksites are usually by the beach and under the sun. I’ve never come home sunburnt from a job, ever.
During summer, I just tan quickly and it stays that way without any pain or peeling. I’ve got a bet going that you’ll tell me what I’ve been telling the boys which is: I can’t get skin cancer because I don’t burn. I reckon because I tan easily my skin is tougher than a pasty person who burns. I hope I’m right, because if not, it’ll cost me $60 dollars – $50 for losing the bet, and $10 for a bottle of sunscreen! Dom, 26 – Wollongong
Dom, I’m sorry to say it, but it looks like you’re shouting the worksite a slab of beer.
The non-medical population never fails to amaze me how wrong their assumptions on health can be. I see the logic in your ‘tanning equals skin cancer immunity’ theory but let’s go through the actual science of it, shall we?
All types of skin, pale or dark, are susceptible to the damage of UV radiation in sunlight. UV rays cause the DNA found in your skin cells to mutate, which can lead to skin cancer.
Australian studies have shown that people who use sunscreen develop melanomas (skin cancer) at half the rate of those who do not use any sunscreen.
Your tanned skin is caused by a brown pigment called melanin. This is produced by your body as a protective response to sunlight. However this protection offers only about SPF 4, which is lower than sunscreen and does little to halt UV rays damaging your skin cells. Some people produce more melanin than others, hence your ‘gift’ of tanning easily.
Your tan does not protect you from getting skin cancer, if anything it hides the true damage of your skin. Remember those government scare-ads that went along the lines of, ‘there’s nothing healthy about a tan’? Well they were right. Tanning is a sign of damaged skin under stress.
Over time your tanned skin will become visibly wrinkled, patchy and discoloured. Skin that has been unprotected from the sun for years will start to resemble a leather couch. Head off to your nearest beach and you’ll spot these leather couches walking around. That’ll scare you into sunscreen quicker than anything else.
Now that we’ve agreed you need to start wearing sunscreen, I’ll help you choose the right one. Unfortunately there are options that are filled with chemicals and additives that cause damage to your skin. Not really the simple answer you were looking for, is it Dom?
What to avoid:
- Chemical filters such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. Studies have shown they act like oestrogen once absorbed and can cause abnormal sperm function and endometriosis in women.
- Retinyl palmitate or retinol. A popular additive to sunscreen as it helps with ageing. What does not help is the Vitamin A found in it to do this, it does nothing to filter out UV rays. This additive has been banned in Germany and America deems it as a toxicant.
- Parabens such as methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben or butylparaben.These nasty preservatives disrupt hormones, induce allergic reactions and are associated with breast cancer.
What to look for:
- Sunscreen formulated with nanoparticles such as zinc oxide titanium oxide. These tiny particles block the sunlight’s UV rays and do not absorb into your bloodstream causing damage to your endocrine system. They are all natural and far safer than chemical ingredients.
Dom, next smoko, do me a favour and get a bottle of sunscreen and remember:
SLIP, SLOP, SLAP!